29 August, 2006
One of the critiques against online games is that there is no innovation. Although games do have variety between them, some design show a lack of originality. Take spells, for example. How many times do you see the same old thing? A spells organized by some variation of the classical elements which consume spell points to cast.
To show that alternatives can exist, I though I’d share a system I created for an unpublished barbarian-themed paper RPG.
The goal was to create a game in the vein of the Conan movies. It was also partially inspired by me playing Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga 3. The goal was to have a game that use miniatures but encouraged fast action. The combats would be strategically mowing through mooks until you got to the main baddie, which would then be more like a “traditional” RPG combat between equals. Unfortunately, the game was unpublished and I never got a chance to playtest it very well. Maybe if there’s enough interest, I might pretty it up and put it out for people to enjoy.
Anyway, the point of this is to show off the magic system. Instead of falling back on the usual classical elements, I wanted to pick a new paradigm for magic. So, I chose the five basic senses. Each sense controls a different type of magic. Here’s an overview, along with a small motivation to explain why I associated those spells with that sense.
Touch: Strength, repair, damage, inflict disease, alter substance, defend against damage.
Motivation: touching transfers power into an object or person, or alters it.
Taste: Healing, cure poison/disease/blindness/deafness, regeneration, conjure food/water.
Motivation: Animals lick wounds to heal them.
Smell: Detect, identify, and manipulate magic; weaken; wither; slow; invoke or remove curse; water breathing; glyphs.
Motivation: Magics as smells is interesting. Imagine a wizard sniffing the air to detect magic; works, doesn’t it?
Sight: Illusions, stun, charm, blindness, invisibility, night vision, far-sight, sleep, confusion
Motivation: Illusions affect the eyes. Other spells are traditionally grouped in that general category.
Hearing: Detect objects, far communication, silence/deafness, summoning/banishing, languages, divination.
Motivation: We detect things we can’t see with our ears, so detection-type spells make sense.
Next, there were different levels of ability which would depend on how you could cast the spell. What’s interesting here is that the more potent your magic ability was, the more cumbersome it became. You might have a few innate powers that were easy to command, or you might have a vast knowledge of magic that could only be accessed through intricate rituals. Some spells could only be cast in certain forms; no summing demons as an innate power! ;) Again, this fit with the theme where magic became cumbersome for those immersed in the powers. The different levels were:
Ritual: A lengthy casting the spell.
Spell item: Focusing spell into an item, 1 use is like casting the spell.
Talisman: A version of the spell is put into item, active when worn usually for a limited duration (protection charms, etc.)
Innate: No “casting” ritual, can just use the spell as an ability. For limited spellcasters.
Finally, you had the magic ability. All major abilities were rated in different sided dice. So, a d4 indicated someone with a very limited ability, and a d12 showed someone of great power. Each skill (e.g., each school of magic) would have a modifier to this die. So a magic rating of d8 and a Taste Magic of 5 means you roll 1d8+5 for your final result, compared to a difficulty number. The interesting bit of this system was that your skills had a maximum rating that depended on your ability rating, but it didn’t work the way you might expect. People with lower ability ratings could get higher in skills to the point where they could average about the same as anyone else. In fact, they would have more consistent rolls. However, the person with the higher base ability could do significantly better (and significantly worse).
In addition, each level of ability determined something about your character. For Health, it determined how many hours of sleep per night you needed in addition to hit points and physical resistances. For magic, your magic level determined how many spells you knew and how you could cast them. This chart shows the restrictions:
d4: Limited to 1 school, up to 2 innate powers.
d6: Limited to 2 schools, up to 4 innate powers.
d8: Limited to 3 schools, up to 6 innate powers or ritual spells.
d10: Limited to 4 schools, requires rituals, and can make minor talismans and spell items.
d12: Allows all schools, requires rituals, and can make talismans and spell items.
That’s the system in a nutshell. Obviously there are some more issues to consider for balance’s sake. For example, how often can innate powers be used? Taking a healing spell as an innate power should be allowed, but being able to use it continuously goes against the whole barbarian setting.
So, what does this have to do with online games? Well, I’m not saying that we can copy this wholesale into a game system. Instead, I think the lesson here is that we can start thinking outside the box a bit. You don’t have to have the same boring spells in every game based on the spells in the D&D manual. Taking a new approach can open up some interesting alternatives to the same old derivative crap we see out there.
What do you think? Does this sound interesting? Do you think it would open up new opportunities that cloning a D&D-type system wouldn’t give? What tweaks would you make?